Years ago the 35th US president made a speech in Germany, four words of which, in American-accented German, remain famous: “Ich bin ein Berliner!”- “I am a Berliner!” That was John F. Kennedy. Will the 45th president, soon to visit Germany’s second city, emulate him and tweet “I am a Hamburger! Wow!” Whatever he tweets, Donald Trump’s encounter with Vladimir Putin on Friday, their first ever, can have immense importance for the world, no matter what it thinks of either of them.
The giant port, known for its gales and floods, is already facing storms which have little to do with North Sea winds or waves. All kinds of important people are gathering there this week for the G-20 meeting of heads of state, and although it has no statute or mandate from any organization but itself, a lot of waves may be created.
Its hostess, Angela Merkel, has been in Berlin until now, welcoming the Chinese president and two youthful giant pandas, to be lent to the Berlin Zoo (for $1 million a year). She hopes they may help her and her Christian Democratic party win the elections in September. The pandas can’t vote, but maybe their charm will rub off on the party, overcoming the not so charming vote of nearly all Christian delegates against same-gender marriage, while all other parties voted successfully “Ja” – also for the right of adoption.
When Merkel arrives in her home town – she was born there in 1954, a genuine Hamburger – she will find a dish of mixed pickles far less charming than bamboo chewing Meng Meng and JiaoQing. It will mean a “bon jour” to the worrisome new French president, Emmanuel Macron, with his big majority in the Assemblée nationale, who seems to be copying Napoleon or Louis XVI. We may recall their fates! And maybe a sarcastic “how do you do?” to a worried Theresa May, who forfeited her majority in Parliament and hopes no one recalls the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots. Also present will be Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, whose party was swamped in a Tokyo state election; his corruption record is winning him the nickname “Dis-Honest Abe”. Erdogan of Turkey will be there too; his recent referendum victory was a sure thing after he threw thousands of people – the kind who might vote mistakenly – judges, generals, policemen, journalists and writers – out of their jobs and often into prison. Other charming guests will include Michel Temer, king of corruption in Brazil, Enrique Peña Nieto from Mexico, a rival in that race, and the equally gifted Jacob Zuma.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia decided against appearing in person, perhaps due to recent British details for a tale almost rivaling the Arabian Nights; how for decades his super-rich kingdom was the major purveyor of the most vicious distortions of Islam, whose spread of hatred is a major factor in terrorism. It has also been a top customer for British, American, German, French and other bombers, tanks or other weapons, to be used most tellingly against the children of Yemen. His presence in Hamburg might embarrass almost everyone, so it is better if he keeps to his home palaces with his entourage and harem.
Two far more numerous groups will be in Hamburg; many are already there: those coming to protest the gathering and those to protect it.
The protesters are engaged in a whole week of activities; an evening dance event, a regatta of canoes, rowboats, kayaks and rafts to temporarily block off the harbor, a series of rallies, dozens of meetings and symposia, a march of symbolically gray-clad figures, and a giant protest on Saturday, with a hoped-for attendance of somewhere near 100,000.
A broad spectrum of organizations has been planning counterdemonstrations to G-20 since it was first announced. Big protest groups like Attac, Campact and Blockupy are backing it, also the strong local LINKE party, the northern region of the German Labor Federation, some churches, agricultural groups opposed to gene manipulation and monopoly seed control, ecology groups like Greenpeace and various opponents of globalization and the deportation of refugees. Also present will be the so-called “autonomous” group, an estimated 5000 from all over Europe, noted for masked conflicts with the police, for shattered windows, overturned and burned-out squad cars, luxury vehicles and dumpsters, just the “left-wing terrorist” stuff the mass media love to report. They plan to defy police “red lines” around “no go zones” but want no violence, they say, “unless the cops start it”. They will be featured at one event on the evening before the official Saturday meetings, titled “Welcome to Hell!” Their announced intention is to entirely disrupt the whole G-20 event, a meeting of the top exploiters of the world, to be opposed tooth and nail, dumpster for dumpster.
The city and government officials are officially committed to permitting organized peaceful dissent, and the Hamburg government is run by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. Even the courts, after many to’s and fro’s, OK’d the presence of the demonstrators. But black blocs are black blocs – and cops are cops, nearly 10,000 from Hamburg, nearly 20,000 from other states. There has already been trouble. First, a group of Berlin cops, preparing for their protective actions, held a fine orgy in their temporary HQ, with enough public intoxication, fornication, urination and a naked dance (with her side weapon as ornament) to get them sent home in disgrace.
Perhaps to compensate for such human failings, three police units invaded the tent sleeping quarters of one protest group, waking them up after midnight and confiscating their tents – despite court orders. Yes it may turn out to be a hot weekend!
But one basic question looms behind all of it; the meeting between Trump and Putin, a matter fraught with confusion, distortion and deception. I fear my findings in the matter may anger some readers, but here they are. In an attempt to explain away the shady methods used to beat Bernie Sanders for the nomination and the following misguided election campaign, aimed more at rich money-givers than the urgent, vital needs of working people, Hillary Clinton and most of her party’s leaders cooked up a fragile scenario blaming Putin and Russia. No matter what may be uncovered (and I have yet to see a single bit of convincing evidence), she and her backers bear the blame for the November defeat.
But that is water over the dam. What is still relevant; this flimsy structure is being used to create an alarmingly belligerent atmosphere, part of the long effort of a small, powerful group in Washington and environs to break any resistance to their will to expansion. As General Wesley Clarke described it, the effort has gone ahead, country by country, most recently in North Africa and the Near East. Yet Russia, since Yeltsin dropped out, is a main obstacle. Over the years it has been possible to surround European Russia with an iron ring, whose military installation and missile bases extend from Norway and the Baltic countries down to Georgia and Azerbaijan, including Russian exits to world waterways in the Baltic and Black Sea. The undisguised attempt to close this ring completely, blocking off the Black Sea and moving even closer to Moscow, was quite openly pursued by people like Victoria Nuland, Deputy Secretary of State, and was only barely stopped, in desperation against total, hostile encirclement, by Putin in Crimea and the eastern Ukraine. The current policy is to suffocate Russia economically, blocking its vital oil and gas export routes to western Europe and ruining the economy with sanctions. A few candid politicos have tattled their end goal; regime change in Moscow, perhaps with a Maidan Square episode in Red Square.
These matters are of vital importance this weekend. With NATO troops in full battle array less than 150 kilometers from Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, with US forces shooting down Russian-allied aircraft in Syria, with NATO ships and planes maneuvering in hailing distance in the Baltic and the Black Sea, not to mention Ukraine – the dangers recall Europe in 1939. It seemed at first that Trump, loony as he seemed, was at least ready to negotiate with Putin about peace. These hopes have dimmed, partly because he felt he must prove his distance from Putin, partly because of the pressure from decoration-hungry generals and sales-hungry armaments giants. He has already launched a frightening bombing raid in Syria, dropped a gigantic bomb in Afghanistan, increased frightening threats to North Korea (for doing, after all, nothing worse than the military testing by ten other atomic-armed countries). It seems clear that Trump knows little more of the outside world than hotels and business deals. Both he and his backers are dangerous. Hamburg offers a thin chance that Putin and Trump can somehow take a few steps away from the precipice.
Can we afford to abandon such hopes – and such pressures? Some of the protesters, maybe taking cues from some op-ed writers at the Washington Post, or whoever their backers seem to be trying to turn protest against many bad things – climate destruction, globalization, oppression, exploitation – into a jolly but mindless attack on Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and Merkel, without a word of analysis.
We need not love Putin any more than Trump, Erdogan or Merkel, we can hate them all as capitalist villains, but we must look at the facts: 761 US military bases spotting the earth like a bad case of measles, with provisional bases bringing it close to 1000, and Russia, except for a few remnants in one-time USSR republics, has two, in Syria, its only bases in the Mediterranean (those of NATO are in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France, Morocco and the adjoining Red Sea. The USA spends yearly over $680 billion on its military, NATO an additional $273 billion – and Trump insists both raise this sharply. Russia spends $93.7 billion. Russia has one aircraft carrier, the USA has ten. A look at the map clinches the matter; who endangers who here? If we count aggressive words as well – US Senators talking of the Russian “foe”, words Putin never uses, it seems difficult to explain how the threats can be called equal.
The meeting in Hamburg, whatever else is achieved or obstructed, should be used to pressure Trump and the NATO countries to negotiate with Russia and join in safeguarding a peaceful world. There is then more than enough repression and deforestation, and a dozen other things, which must be fought against. But first of all, I am convinced, against confrontation, which can all too easily mean atomic war!